Chippewa Herald * December 2, 2002

The bigger the challenge, the more Boy Scouts like it

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

Adam and Garrett rubbed their hands vigorously, trying to warm them by the fire that was now crackling. It was well below freezing, and the eastern sky was just beginning to glow with the rising sun.

The new October day looked promising, but right now they were wishing they had brought their gloves!

But no parent or leader had nagged them about what to bring, or double-checked their packing. The philosophy of the Boy Scouts of America is that boys learn by doing, and the Scout Motto, "Be Prepared," becomes real when the boys learn from their own mistakes.

This was the first backpack trip in the short eighteen-month history of Troop 72 of Chippewa Falls. These boys had done plenty of camping -- most of them have been on a majority of the troop's thirteen campouts to date -- but this is the first time that each boy had to haul all the camping equipment on his own back.

In fact, that perceived hardship had weeded out many boys. The typical campout attendance is around 12-18, but only six boys were willing to take a stab at really roughing it.

Most of the other boys in the troop were not willing to endure bearing the weight of all their gear, and having to pack light with no vehicle nearby. (Not to mention camping in a tent when the thermometer dips below freezing.)

I'm not even sure how much enthusiasm there was among the six boys who did sign up! I think most of them decided to go on this trip only because it fulfilled a requirement for the Camping merit badge.

A funny thing happened on the way to the campsite, though. I think these boys realized how refreshing it can be to simplify their planning and lighten their load.

There were no games planned or lectures to attend -- the goal of this campout was simply to hike in, set up camp, eat, sleep, and hike out.

But there is joy in the journey!

Cooking over an open campfire (the propane stoves were too heavy) was an adventure. We had to lash together a tripod out of dead sticks from which to hang the pot for boiling water. Speaking of water, we had to fetch water from the lake, and then filter it (or boil it) for drinking.

We had to put all the food in one pack and hoist it high overhead at night to keep it out of the reach of hungry bears and raccoons.

Suddenly, all the outdoor training of the Boy Scouts seemed somehow more real and more important.

On the return trip, having everything on our backs gave us the privilege of stopping wherever we felt like. For lunch, we all sat on a wooded hillside overlooking a pristine lake, basking in the warm noontime sun while munching on trail mix, fruit, and cheese. We also took rest stops on wooden foot bridges crossing the bogs.

Thanks to Richard Smith, we had a great hiking route on the Ice Age Trail in northern Chippewa County, featuring a beautiful, isolated camping spot on Hardwood Lake.

While we were hiking back to civilization, I was reflecting on our experience and what it taught us.

It seems ironic that these boys were happiest when there was hardship to overcome. They had to work harder, endure more, and had no "fun" planned out for them.

And yet an informal poll in the van said that they enjoyed this trip more than almost all the other campouts we've been on.

With the elections coming up, I couldn't help thinking of this in political terms. Our government assures us the right to PURSUE happiness, but makes no guarantee that we will actually achieve it.

It seems that, like the Boy Scouts, those in our adult world who work harder and decide their own tradeoffs often seem to enjoy life more than those who get things handed to them and have their "fun" planned out for them. Free-market economies always outperform socialistic countries, as each family carves their own path through life without being told what to do by the government.

By the way, you can see over two hundred photos of our backpack trip on the web:

The six brave boys are excited about planning more backpack trips, and are working to convince some of their doubting friends to try camping on the trail.

And next time, I think it's safe to assume that Adam and Garrett will remember to pack their gloves.

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